40 Years in Beer, Part Twenty-Eight: The founding of F.O.S.S.I.L.S. in 1990

0
1201
There is a scant photographic record of FOSSILS in 1990 and 1991. This view is from 1995.

Previously: 40 Years in Beer, Part Twenty-Seven: Ladislav’s language — or, teaching credentials from a tiki bar in Ostrava.

Today’s installment requires a short introduction to establish historical context. 

Right up to a certain pre-exponential level of fanaticism, I suppose there isn’t much difference between a stamp collector, a vintage car buff and an end-times cult member. Heightened interest in a particular topic leads to a growing fascination, and then aspiring fanatics seek out the like-minded for further high jinks.

Shared obsessions spiral. Pretty soon a movement ensues, often inconsequential, but occasionally wider in scope, and while only the truly spectacular (and rare) David Koresh-level flame-outs attract widespread attention, anything’s possible. Every now and then, such movements result in the betterment of the commonweal.

How far they ultimately go depends on numerous factors, often pertaining to socio-economic orientation, not to mention cash stocks and sheer serendipity. It helps to have spontaneous outbreaks of the same basic impulse, but the prevalent means of communications at the time determine whether or not scattered groups ever manage to coalesce.

Ever since Al “Three True Outcomes” Gore invented the Internet, organizing the like-minded has been far easier than ever before, when efforts to gather the like-minded more closely resembled the pulsating excitement of snail regattas.

And so in the Louisville metropolitan area during the late 1980s a handful of seemingly isolated beer-related occurrences began gaining a semi-critical mass, lacking only an impetus to propel unity, which already was occurring in scattered regional American locales like New England, the West Coast states and Colorado.

One of the early keys to what would soon become the craft beer explosion came from the hitherto shadowy hobby of homebrewing.

In forgotten days of old, making beer (or wine, cider and mead) at home was a default notion, an act of no greater novelty than fermenting cabbage into kraut, smoking meat, salting fish, or making a pot of stew.

In more modern times, homebrewing continued to exist on the fringes of illegality, albeit left generally to its own devices by those government authorities charged with controlling the production of alcohol, who tended to focus their attention on illicit distillation, with its more concentrated implications for tax evasion.

During the 1960s, certain dusty byways amid the flowering counterculture became enamored of homebrewing, producing early prophets of the genre like Byron Burch, Fred Eckhardt and Charlie Papazian. But the disconnected mass-market majority of American beer drinkers probably became aware of brewing’s do-it-yourself underpinnings only when an otherwise unpopular (and personally teetotal) chief executive signed a piece of legislation.

In 1978, President Jimmy Carter signed HR 1337, legalizing homebrewing at the federal level and giving Carter the unlikely distinction of homebrewing hero. The law took effect on February 1st, 1979, just as Papazian was launching his homebrewing magazine Zymurgy (Zymurgy is a scientific term that is defined as fermentation by yeast) and the American Homebrewers Association.

Granted, each of the 50 states was left to produce its own enabling law with respect to homebrewing, but most soon did, and consequently homebrewing’s popularity nudged up, albeit in a different way than before.

Making beer at home formerly was perceived as a way of inexpensively producing vaguely palatable beverage alcohol, but now it became inexorably twinned with advancing consciousness about better beer and beer styles, whether imported or rendered by the early generation of microbrewers.

Homebrewing was on its way to higher cultural ground, ceding the old Depression-era fogey’s penny-pinching imperatives in favor of an enhanced, hobbyist’s identity. In short, imitating mass market lager took a back seat to utilizing one’s kitchen or garage to reliably brew English Pale Ale, Bock or Stout.

A handful of my friends already had started homebrewing, acquiring the needed components from mail-order catalogs, the beer section of a Louisville winemaker’s supply store, restaurant equipment vendors, or dumpster diving. As these and other practitioners moved forward, they came into contact with each other, exchanging notes and scientifically sampling those beers they sought to emulate.

The result was the appearance of two area homebrew clubs: Louisville Grain and Extract Research Society (L.A.G.E.R.S., founded in 1989), and Fermenters of Special Southern Indiana Libations Society (F.O.S.S.I.L.S., in 1990).

These clubs were the primary conduits for interest in all things beer, embracing all-purpose beer appreciation as well as homebrewing, this being the era immediately prior to the Internet’s proliferation when information was emphatically not a handy mobile device away.

Speaking as one who was contemplating the prospective escalation of the Sportstime Pizza/Rich O’s BBQ square footage into a haven for better beer, and acknowledging that in 1990 the configuration of our evolving business wasn’t yet entirely clear, I will lay claim to having only one big insight when it came to homebrewing.

Homebrewers made great customers, who had money to spend on the beers they were hoping to replicate, and they were eager to both learn and teach, factors  dovetailing perfectly with the beer-related direction we’d soon be headed.

It struck me as far more expedient, as well as mutually rewarding, to nurture an autonomous homebrewing club than a site-specific Rich O’s Fan Club. The homebrewing club would have a consistent base of operations, and the pub a dependable customer base.

One Sunday a month during the entire decade of the 1990s, and into the next millennium, we happily relinquished our only “real” day off to host F.O.S.S.I.L.S. meetings, and apart from exceedingly rare exceptions, it never felt like work.

Conversely, the official newsletter of FOSSILS actually was work, although using Walking the Dog (WTD) as a platform to indulge my urge to evangelize about better beer surely scratched a pre-existing itch. I wasn’t meant to be a brewer; my aptitude was polemical, a fact later noted by none other than Michael “The Beer Hunter” Jackson himself.

I’d graduated from my mother’s 1950s-era manual college typewriter to an electric model from the late 1970s; my first PC was still a few years away. Issues of WTD were typed, corrected with liquid paper, cut and pasted, and photocopied (sometimes at area schools where I was still substitute teaching on occasion and had access to the audiovisual department; belated apologies to long-suffering taxpayers).

These newsletters were collated, folded, stapled, and stamped. Sometimes I had assistance, other times not. Club dues were calculated to cover these costs, with monthly raffles paying for the commercial beers we drank, and also covering other expenditures. At some juncture in the early 1990s, the business leased a copying machine for “company” use; predictably, F.O.S.S.I.L.S. newsletters proved to be far and away the largest single expenditure.

However, as should be abundantly clear, the company benefitted mightily from the affiliation. Rich O’s and F.O.S.S.I.L.S. were two peas in a pod, and mutually supportive. The club still exists 33 years later, and many of its meetings still take place at the NABC Pizzeria & Public House.

In 1995 two installments of my “A Short History of FOSSILS” were published in Walking the Dog. Almost three decades later, they strike me as genuine period pieces, but spot-on in terms of conjuring the atmosphere of the period. It’s also inescapable that since I wrote most of the words published in the FOSSILS newsletter (while encouraging others to contribute, and many did so), the story is told largely in my own voice.

(After all, you’re reading my autobiography, “40 Years in Beer.”)

At this juncture, we travel in time to the 1990s for Part One of “A Short History of FOSSILS” (1990), to be followed next time by 1991. Excerpts from “A Short History,” as well as other passages originally appearing in WTD, also will appear in future installments of the “40 Years” narrative, considering that much of the Public House’s subsequent history was written in the form of a homebrewing club’s newsletter.

And this just as I intended. The following has been edited only lightly to correct spelling mistakes.

(scroll down to read numbered notes)

A Short History of FOSSILS, by Roger A. Baylor, President-for-Life Emeritus

Introduction: “What Is It with You Guys, Anyway?”

The five-year anniversary of the Fermenters of Special Southern Indiana Libations Society on September 30, 1995 is an appropriate time for a retrospective. The group has changed much in this time, and many current members who weren’t around in the beginning might be interested to learn something about the club’s origins.

I began by assembling all 60 issues of Walking the Dog, and immediately I was struck by the notion that our newsletter has evolved into a substantial body of work. The newsletter has been my responsibility since the beginning, and with the exception of the issues edited by Barry Sears during my stay in Slovakia, I’ve edited them all.

Naturally, any attempted survey of FOSSILS history must lean heavily on the words found in Walking the Dog, and numerous excerpts are included in the following. These are supplemented by information found in our admittedly scattershot archives, which are composed of four large cardboard file boxes, and with my running (and sometimes stumbling) commentary. The intent is to recount the things we’ve done and the times we’ve had, and to interpret these in the light of the perspective that I hope we’ve gained after five years of manning the revolutionary ramparts — not that the revolution was so clearly defined for us in the beginning, but the glimmer was there all along.

Much will be omitted, but I hope that this is only temporary, as I hope to incorporate personal recollections and testimonials in future installments of this story. I’ve always wanted to write a book, and in the story of FOSSILS there is plenty enough to prompt such an undertaking. Thousands of words, thousands of beers … sounds like an epic to me.

My immediate advice to my readers, most of whom weren’t around in the beginning, is to pour a beer, find a comfortable spot for reading and enjoy the ride.

Beginnings to July, 1991: “Informality Shall Be the Rule …”

The origins of the group that came to be known as FOSSILS are obscure, but only in the sense that it is impossible to know the point in each individual member’s life when the pursuit of better beer became a priority.

Speaking only for myself, 1989 probably was the year. I had returned from a third long journey to Europe, and although I would continue to drink cost-effective mainstream beer when necessary to maintain the level of sought-after intoxication that is an inescapable factor in any drinking experience, it had become obvious to me that beer had risen to a level of importance beyond that afforded me by the generic American norms of my youth.

A steadily growing interest in beer appreciation was the prime motivation that led myself and several other friends and acquaintances to consider some sort of group effort, which in turn was spurred on by the involvement of my cousin, Dennis Barry, and others in homebrewing.

In the mid-1980’s, during one of my stints as an employee of Scoreboard Liquors, I had attempted to put together a Beer-of-the-Month Club, the members of which would agree to buy equal allotments of a particular beer so as to provide the opportunity for everyone to try something new while holding down the cost. I was thinking about it again in early 1990, and at one point four of us (myself, Todd Fulkerson, Barrie Ottersbach and, I believe, Bob Gunn) split up a case of St. Sixtus Abbey Ale (1).

By the summer of 1990, Amy had taken over the operation of Rich O’s from the two pathetic derelicts who opened it, and we were discussing the possibility of pushing it in the direction of a pub, which would be called The Cozy Rut (2). This wouldn’t come to pass until later, but the idea was the impetus for further consideration of the club concept, since Amy’s place would provide avenue for meetings. Furthermore, Denny’s homebrewing was progressing nicely, and we were hearing more and more about the hobby.

Finally I put together a sloppy, handwritten poster to announce, albeit unwittingly, the coming of the revolution to New Albany, Indiana:

Drinkers of the World Unite!
BEER of the MONTH CLUB
Sunday, Sept. 30, 1990
5:00 PM
The Cozy Rut at Richo’s, next to Sportstime

Agenda

                  1. Sample a few beers (type to be determined).
                  2. Discuss the club and what we’ll do.
                  3. Decide on next month’s beer.
                  4. Discuss home brewing.
                  5. Patronize Amy’s place by eating dinner there.

 

The Few, The Proud, The Swizzled

The meeting took place as planned, and the newsletter began in anonymous fashion shortly thereafter. As Dennis Barry later put it, “we had a grand time.” I (Roger) was appointed to the position of President for Life, to be abbreviated P-F-L.

It’s worth remembering that at the time, Amy had been in business at Rich O’s only a few months. The first FOSSILS meeting took place in the front dining area, where six tables and orange-seated chairs remain today. Those six tables were Rich O’s in 1990 — just those pieces of used furniture and her. An insurance office was on the other side of the wall that bisected today’s front room, and the bar didn’t materialize until mid-1992, when my involvement in the business commenced.

Provisional Report of the Beer Club with No Name
Oct., 1990

The inaugural gathering of the beer club with no name must be termed an unqualified success. Attending:

Dennis (Barry), Roger (Baylor), Mark (Francis), Rick (Lang) (3), Amy (O’Connell), Barrie (Ottersbach) & Lee (Cotner)

1. Beer of the Month: MacAndrew’s Scotch Ale (4).

All drinkers noticed distinct qualities that set(it) apart from Old Swillwaukee …

2. Our Organization: Purpose, Philosophy, Etc.

We agree to meet each month … officers were selected in a decidedly non-democratic fashion, with all in attendance supporting the motion that each and every club member have an official title or hold an office …informality shall be the rule (and) dues will be levied only when deemed necessary for a specific purpose, with unanimous approval of the rank and file required …

3. The Terrifying Plunge into Homebrewing

If any common theme emerged from our initial gathering, it is that most of us are interested in homebrewing. Dennis and Mark are grizzled veterans of the process (and) eager to discuss their progress …equipment and supplies are easily obtained … cleanliness and sterility are of the utmost importance… take notes while brewing!

We will meet on Sunday, October 28 at 7:30 PM, again at Richo’s. Lee is responsible for providing munchies …

Taking the Puppy for a Healthful Stroll

The first Walking the Dog owed its name to a story related on the back of Newcastle Brown Ale bottles (the story has been replaced by the familiar U.S. government health warning), wherein it was stated that men in Newcastle would steal away from their homes for a tipple at their respective pubs by a taking their dogs out for a walk.

The October 28 meeting also yielded the club’s name: Fermenters of Special Southern Indiana Libations Society. I can’t recall much about how this name came to pass, other than our attempting to find pliable words that would match a witty, pre-determined acronym. As it turned out, FOSSILS was a fine choice that took into account one of our most significant local attractions, the fossil beds at the Falls of the Ohio. In addition, it predated the Jurassic Park dinosaur marketing mania by almost four years.

For those of us in attendance, the meeting of October 28 will long be remembered as the occasion of a great awakening, for it was there that the many, varied and wonderful possibilities of home brewing were definitively revealed through the expertise and the uniformly luscious samples provided by our guest, Mr. David Pierce of LAGERS (5). Fully equipped with cooler and anecdote, David treated us to colorful commentary on the subtleties of home brewing and the origins and activities of LAGERS, punctuating his words with the products of his labors, all of which were excellent.

… Barrie has conducted preliminary research on a field trip to the (Oldenberg) brewery (whose) package rates have been deemed excessive by the group, so he will seek additional information on nearby motels to compare prices.

… Volunteerism lives, and it is boosted considerably by generous helpings of David’s mead, and so Mark (Francis) has graciously volunteered his home for our next meeting (Sunday, November 25 at 6:30 PM). Todd (Fulkerson) (6) or Mark will be responsible for the munchies … they’ll have to work to top Amy’s spread of the 28th – – credit to Lee for the cash infusion and to Amy for preparation. (WTD #2, November 1990)

Next: 40 Years in Beer, Part Twenty-Nine: The radicalization of F.O.S.S.I.L.S. (1990-91)

NOTES

(1) St. Sixtus Abbey Ale
In its previous incarnation (from 1945 through 1992) the secular brewery we know today as St. Bernardus produced licensed versions of Westvleteren Trappist Ales under an agreement with the monks at the St. Sixtus monastary just down the road in Watou. One of these licensed ales, called St. Sixtus Abbey Ale, was available in America during the 1970s and 1980s via the pioneering beer importer Merchant du Vin. In 1992 the monks chose to end the licensing arrangement, expand their small brewery, and take back full production in order to fully leverage the value of the Trappist appellation. The ex-contract brewer quickly reinvented itself as St. Bernardus, at first relabeling essentially the same recipes, then tweaking and augmenting them into the contemporary product line.

(2) Cozy Rut
Cozy Rut was a strong early contender to become the emerging pub’s new name, but we chose to retain Rich O’s, at least provisionally. As the premises gradually were remodeled, Cozy Rut it came to signify the small (later expanded) standing area to the rear of the pub, by the bar. The inspiration for Cozy Rut came from a quote by Paul McCartney at London Life prior to the release in 1966 of the album “Revolver” by the Beatles:

There’s got to be some kind of change. It probably won’t be drastic, but I think the good thing about us is that we keep contradicting ourselves. I saw someone on TV asked what he wanted out of life and he said ‘a cozy rut.’ To be in a cozy rut is about the sickest thing ever, I think. You can enjoy it, but what’s the point of living in a cozy rut?

(3) R.I.P. Rick Lang, (1957-2019). Richard Lang was a man of many names. I generally called him Rick. It isn’t clear to me why, but by the late 1980s Rick was being referred to as Big Dick Lang (BDL), which Barrie Ottersbach merrily altered into Biggus Dickus — or Biggus, as borrowed from Monty Python’s Life of Brian. In fact Rick was quite fond of all these names, and he laughed along with the rest of us

 

 

(4) MacAndrew’s Scotch Ale
Another memorable beer from the Merchant du Vin portfolio in the 1980s and early 1990s was MacAndrew’s, a singular, strong and full-bodied Scotch Ale (“Wee Heavy”), brewed primarily for export by the Caledonian Brewery. Later after ownership changed hands, brewing of the brand for export passed to Samuel Smith, where “Scotch” became “Stock” ale, and the ale’s character was unfortunately diminished. This led to waning interest at the Public House, and at some point MacAndrew’s quietly disappeared from the beer list. I still miss it.

(5) David Pierce
This F.O.S.S.I.L.S. meeting is the exact point at which David and I became reacquainted. David is a bit older than me; his younger brother Eric was in my Floyd Central graduating class of 1978, and I did not know David altogether well during school. It bears noting (without ironclad proof) that David’s and Eric’s father, the late Van Pierce, who was a longtime teacher at Floyd Central, might well have possessed the first ever home refrigerator kegerator in the entire history of Georgetown, Indiana.

(6) R.I.P. Todd Fulkerson, 1965-2005. I haven’t forgotten you, Todd, but I can’t find any photos. As soon as one turns up…